Amphitheatre de Catane

Planche CXXXIII

houel plate 133

In addition to the Sicilian theatres of Taormina and Tindari, which were adapted to hold amphitheatrical events, there are three purpose-built amphitheatres in Sicily; the one at Catania was the last to be built. The existence of these amphitheatres indicates the indubitable Romanisation of Sicily. The use of concrete substructures for the seating allows experts to deduce that it was built in the middle decades of the 2nd century AD and that it seated around 16, 000 spectators. The amphitheatre was reconstructed at the beginning of the 20th century using the Colosseum as a model.

In the 18th century the majority of the building was still visible, though several natural and human factors had contributed to its decline and destruction: from volcanic eruptions (e.g. AD 251 and 1693) and floods (1841); laws against gladiatorial spectacles in Late Antiquity; the permission given by the Ostrogoth king Theodoric to reuse stones from the building; and later, a decree by the Senate of Catania authorising the demolition of the upper part of the amphitheatre, because it was attached to the city walls meaning that enemies could use it to assault the city.

Planche CXXXIV

houel plate134

In illustration CXXXIII Hoüel draws a plan of how he imagined the building would appear if excavated. Using his own words, he adds graceful forms and perspective to satisfy his readers; by doing this he does not confound the scholars - they are capable of drawing their own conclusions. Hoüel is convinced that what he offers is the real monument. In his opinion, although the amphitheatre of Catania was architectonically inferior to the Colosseum, its value was greater, for it indicated a much greater effort on the part of the inhabitants of Catania than the Flavian amphitheatre had ever demanded of Vespasian and Titus. It is curious though, that Hoüel considered that the amphitheatre might have been Greek in origin. Here we need to take into account the fact that Greek studies in the 18th century were still in their very early stages.

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